To say that some dogs can be greedy is an understatement. However, there’s a difference between pets using all their cunning to get a scrap or two off the dining table and those who are constantly crying out for more food, even after they’ve been fed.
This incessant barking and whining might start off merely as irritating, but the longer it goes on, the more a parent might suspect that something’s wrong with their dog — why are they still hungry?
Well, there’s a whole array of reasons and parents might have to undertake a little detective work to get to the bottom of it.
It’s in their genes
Interestingly, your dog’s seemingly insatiable appetite might lie in their ancestry. Today’s cuddly canines were domesticated from wolves tens of thousands of years ago, but they retain some of their lupine instincts.
Like many hunting animals, wolves in the wild tend to eat as much as they can in one sitting, which safeguards against a few barren days of hunting.1 This is also the reason you might see your dog burying bones or toys — wolves do the same to hide away an emergency supply of food just in case the going gets tough.
As such, your dog might still think they need to eat to ward off a potential stretch of famine, which, of course, they don’t need to worry about.
What’s more, the domestication process might also hold a few clues. When humans were training dogs to complete tasks, the animals who responded well to treat incentives would be the ones selected to breed. Over the generations, this would result in dogs eager to work hard in exchange for food.
Today, your dog might not do anything more strenuous than run around in the park once a day, but this instinct may well have been hard-wired into their genetic makeup.
One recent study identified a gene variation in Labradors and Flat Coat Retrievers, which affects the part of the brain that regulates hunger and feeling full after a meal. It’s estimated up to one in four Labs carry this variant and this makes them susceptible to obesity.2
It’s useful for parents to consider this evolutionary explanation when their dog is begging for more food or treats, but like many other undesirable behaviors, it can be trained out too with a little patience and tough love.
It’s a problem with their diet
Although your dog might be channeling their inner wolf when begging for food, they might also just be trying to communicate that their current diet isn’t fit for their needs.
Am I feeding my dog enough?
There’s no harm in a parent taking stock of what they feed their dog.
For example, if they’re exercising a lot or working throughout the day, you might want to consider upping their allowance. You can always lower it if you start to notice weight gain.
However, it could just come down to quantity.
“If a dog is being fed a really nutrient-dense food — something like an 80:20 high-meat recipe — they only need a small quantity, especially if they do not have a particularly active lifestyle,” says Laura Ward, in-house nutritionist at Dog Food Advisor. “Although it’s providing the nutrients needed, it might not be filling them up or satisfying them.”
One way to remedy this is to look for recipes that are high in fiber.
“This can add more bulk and aid satiety, which is why you’ll see it in many veterinary weight loss foods,” says Ward.
If you struggle to find high-fiber dog food, some vets recommend adding vegetables, such as sweet potato or green beans, to their meals. You could use these as treats as well, which leads us to…
Am I giving my dog the right type of food?
One place to look for clues is in their poop. Indeed, this is what nutritional scientists do when they’re working out just how digestible a dog food is.
“If your dog’s producing loose or very large stools, it can be that their food is not being well digested,” says Laura Ward, in-house nutritionist at Dog Food Advisor. “Although the food contains all of the nutrients needed, these aren’t being accessed by the dog and therefore they might be still looking for food too.”
You might want to consider switching over to dog food with a high digestibility score. Although these figures can sometimes be difficult to find, any product scoring above 88% digestible is considered excellent, while anything less than 75% is poor.
Am I giving my dog too many treats?
Another reason your dog might constantly be angling for more food is they’ve worked out their parents are a soft touch when it comes to doling out the treats.
In comparison to pet food, treats are designed to be calorie-rich and extra-tasty, as dogs are more likely to take on board new skills when offered them. However, they’re not as nutritionally complete as pet food and it’s the equivalent of giving a young child unlimited access to ice cream — they might not know when to stop.
Alternatively, your dog might have learned to associate begging for treats with a bit of TLC.
“Is your dog actually hungry or do they just want interaction or attention from their parents?” asks Ward. “Often begging is a learned behavior because it has a nice outcome for our dogs.”
One of the most frequently repeated bits of advice on this topic is to keep treats beneath 10% of your dog’s calorific allowance so as not to encourage them to keep looking up at you with those big, irresistible eyes.
It’s a symptom of an illness
Keep an eye out for other symptoms your dog might be displaying along with an increased appetite. This could include:
Increased urination or defecation
Vomiting or diarrhea
Weight gain or loss
Changes in muscle or belly size
If you spot any of these changes, you should book an appointment with your vet and they’ll be able to carry out tests to see if there’s a deeper malaise behind their hunger.
Does my dog have worms or a parasite?
One of the reasons a dog may appear unsatisfied with the amount of food put before them is that something is stopping the nutrients from being absorbed into their system.
For example, parasites living inside your dog’s organs, such as worms, might be essentially stealing your dog’s dinner, leaving them to feel as if they haven’t eaten at all.
This can also lead to weight loss, an upset or bloated stomach, lethargy or a dull-looking coat. At the same time, you might be able to spot worms in your dog’s poop or see them scraping their bum across the floor.
Thankfully, there’s a large variety of deworming medication available to treat the infestation and preventative measures can also help reduce the likelihood of a recurrence.
Does my dog have irritable bowel syndrome?
Another condition that prevents nutrients from being absorbed into your dog’s body is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This is a gastrointestinal illness caused by a chronically upset stomach and intestines, and leads to episodes of diarrhea and constipation.
As the digestive process is interrupted, it can also lead to an increased appetite, although the opposite can sometimes be true as well.
Vets can undertake a number of tests to see if IBS is the cause of your dog’s heightened appetite and will usually prescribe medication and a dietary change to avoid major flare-ups.
Does my dog have diabetes?
Diabetes is another condition that can cause increased hunger. This is when the body is unable to regulate blood sugar effectively due to an insufficient supply of insulin.
Without enough insulin, the glucose is unable to reach your dog’s cells and be converted into energy. Just as with worms, they’ll be eating, but they won’t be experiencing the expected benefits and may subsequently seek even more food to fill that gap.
At the same time, your dog might experience increased thirst, more frequent urination or weight loss.
Unfortunately, diabetes can’t be cured, but the condition can be managed with insulin injections and a carefully monitored diet — care that should be covered by a good pet insurance plan.
Does my dog have Cushing’s Disease?
Like diabetes, Cushing’s Disease — or hyperadrenocorticism — is another hormonal dysfunction that can cause increased appetite in dogs. It’s caused by a tumor in the pituitary or adrenal glands causing an excess amount of cortisol to be produced.
It’s usually first spotted in dogs older than eight years and the accompanying symptoms can often be confused with aging — things like heightened thirst, lethargy, hair loss and more frequent urination, especially at night.
Depending on the location of the tumor, surgery or radiation therapy can sometimes remove the underlying cause, but medication is the most common treatment option — again, the cost of which should be helped by a good pet insurance plan.
Does my dog have depression?
On other occasions, the problem doesn’t lie with the dog’s body, but rather in their head.
Just like humans, dogs can suffer from depression and very often, this can affect their appetite. Some pets will go completely off their food, while others will comfort eat and seem constantly hungry.
There are a range of other warning signs to look out for if you think this is the case, from general lethargy and withdrawal to unexpectedly aggressive behavior and clinginess.
If your pet appears withdrawn, parents are recommended to consider what changes in the environment or daily routine might have caused their pet distress. This could be parents returning to work, a new pet or child in the house, or an injury.
With this in mind, it’s possible to try to lift their spirits, be that by scheduling more playtime or buying more toys to keep them mentally stimulated. Vets can prescribe medication to help in more extreme circumstances.